Warriors host Blazers Sunday to begin playoff march

Bright yellow t-shirts and deafening cheers from “Dub Nation.” Yes it’s that time again for the Golden State Warriors, as their 2017 NBA playoffs begin Sunday at Oracle Arena.

Considering what transpired the last time the Warriors participated in a playoff game, the first round looks to be the perfect opportunity for the Dubs to start anew in 2017.

Who has the upper hand in this round?

There’s no way to sugar coat this: The Warriors have flat-out dominated the Trail Blazers in recent years. Going back to Steve Kerr’s first season in 2014-15, the Warriors have boasted a 14-2 record against Portland, including the 2016 postseason when the Warriors breezed past Dame and the gang by way of a gentleman’s sweep, 4-1.

It also doesn’t help that during this season, the Warriors have beaten the Trail Blazers by an average margin of 19.5 points per affair. This makes this matchup look a bit lopsided on paper initially.

Will Nurkic be a factor?

Since being traded to the Trail Blazers on February 12, Jusuf Nurkic has been nothing short of spectacular. According to Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News, in only 20 games played for Portland, Nurkic has averaged 15.2 points, 10 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

Unfortunately for Portland, it’s likely Nurkic be sidelined through the first round of the playoffs. This is due to a fibular fracture that the Portland medical staff discovered in late March.

That looks to bode well for the Warriors who typically have trouble guarding skilled bigs. As seen before against teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs.

How will Kevin Durant adjust to playoff basketball?

Having Durant sidelined for a month and a half with a left knee injury wasn’t ideal for the Warriors. The good news was that he had three regular season games to knock off the rust once he did return.

So far, in those three starts, Durant has been slowly returning back to “Durantula” form. His first play against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 8, resulted in a reverse slam dunk, followed by a confident landing on the same left leg originally injured.

Including that night, Durant has averaged 20.3 points per game, capped by a 29-point performance against the Lakers to end the regular season.

The next test for Durant will be playoff basketball. The high pace and intensity of a playoff atmosphere is the only question mark surrounding Durant’s return. Has he shed enough rust to be a factor? Will his confidence return shooting the ball? Can Durant make a seamless transition back into an already-humming Golden State offense? These are all questions that will be answered in the first round.

Will Damian Lillard show up against his hometown team?

Originally from from Oakland, Damian Lillard has embraced the his role as an up and coming NBA star. To boot, throughout his career, Lillard has stepped up his game when facing the Warriors, his childhood favorite team.

According to basketball-reference.com, in 16 regular season games played against Golden State Lillard has averaged 25.4 points per game. That marks a three-point improvement from his career average of 22.4 points per game.

Lillard also dropped his career high in a single game against the Warriors on Feb. 19, 2016 when he scored 51 points in Portland.

Lillard will be an X-factor for the Trail Blazers who will have to rely on their backcourt if they hope to keep up with the potent offense of the Warriors.

Goals for the Warriors

  1. Get Durant comfortable on the floor again.
  2. Finish the series quickly without injury.

If both of these things can be done, the Warriors will be in good shape heading into the second round to face either the Utah Jazz or the Los Angeles Clippers.

Long rest will come if the Warriors win in four or five games and more practice time will be available to sharpen up sets to run in games. Kerr is sure to have certain plays that he has not shown so far this season.

Prediction

Warriors in five.